Planning a December Trip! (Discussing SWC/CZ schedule performance etc.)

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Jul 30, 2021
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I'm planning a long Amtrak trip (for a family of four, I am the 20 year old planning the train component of the family trip :)) to California that will probably take place in early December. Earlier is fine but December seems to have lots of low buckets!

Note that I live in the MSP area, so the Empire Builder is close by. However, I would more likely drive to Galesburg and catch the SWC/CZ there. The plan would be:
  1. Drive to GBB and catch the SWC the same day.
  2. Take the SWC to LAX, then switch to the CS and go to SBP to avoid LA traffic and see the coast by the train.
    1. In the event the SWC is too late to connect with the CS (there window is 2 hours), I would take the Surfliner to SBP. Off the top of my head there is a departure around 3 PM and another around 6 PM. My guess is Amtrak would simply reschedule me on one of these trains in the event I miss the CS.
  3. Enjoy ourselves in CA!
  4. Catch the CZ somewhere between EMY and SMF and return to Galesburg.

The main question mark with this plan is train performance, as both the SWC and CZ have been performing quite poorly lately. Last I checked, the SWC was 4+ hours late into LAX on average (for the past two months) and the CZ was 6+ hours late into GBB on average for the same period. Looking at the historical data from juckins.net suggests to me that this is a more recent trend.

If the CZ is more than a couple of hours late, it won't make sense to drive home that same day (GBB is about 6.5 hours from MSP), so it might make sense to spend the night in GBB. However, if I already need to spend the night in GBB, it would only increase the trip duration by one night to take the EB to CHI and connect with the SWC/CZ there. The appeal to this alternative is virtually no driving and being able to ride the entirety of the SWC, if not the CZ. However, it is more expensive as two nights in CHI is a lot more expensive than a single night in GBB, not to mention needing 8 tickets between CHI and MSP (4 people 2 ways). Too bad there is no hotel adjoining Union Station!

I do apologize for rambling but I am having a bit of fun planning this. ;)

P.S. How is the scenery on the SWC/CZ in December compared to other months?
 

Eric in East County

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What accommodations are you planning to book for your various trains? If your family will be making the entire trip in coach, missing a connection probably won’t inconvenience you too much. Missing a connection with reservations in a bedroom, roomettes, or a family bedroom would probably be a different matter.
 
Joined
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What accommodations are you planning to book for your various trains? If your family will be making the entire trip in coach, missing a connection probably won’t inconvenience you too much. Missing a connection with reservations in a bedroom, roomettes, or a family bedroom would probably be a different matter.
Sleeper for SWC and CZ. Coach for the rest (which is probably just the short stint up the coast in the CS, assuming we skip the EB).
 

Tom Booth

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What accommodations are you planning to book for your various trains? If your family will be making the entire trip in coach, missing a connection probably won’t inconvenience you too much. Missing a connection with reservations in a bedroom, roomettes, or a family bedroom would probably be a different matter.
Inconvenience would apply more to coach people than sleeper folks. For one,it would increase time spent traveling without being able stretch out. Sleeper people at least would have one section of trip in more comfortable accommodations.
 
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Joined
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Inconvenience would apply more to coach people than sleeper folks. For one,it would increase time spent traveling without being able stretch out. Sleeper people at least would have one section of trip in more comfortable accommodations.
Agreed. The question of how late I am likely to be dictates whether I should plan on spending the night in Galesburg or not. Even being a couple of hours late would mean getting back to MSP late that night.
 
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It all looks good re your reservation... but if and when things go wrong with delays or etc, you can find yourself in a lot of hot water... reliant upon good res people who can make a vast difference in what happens next. The biggest problem with Amtrak travel is that there is very little reliability and everything is so random... one minute everything is fine, the next yer whole trip falls apart.

Be sure to have a back-up plan and if you can sync yourself for being flexibility with the possibility of losing money along the way... you will get through it better.

That is to say... don't count on things going as expected... be flexible, and if there is a bit Amtrak bungle know you have the chance to call customer service when you return.

That said... document everything when things go wrong.

Yup! It's an adventure for sure!
 
Joined
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Yup! It's an adventure for sure!
Oh yes! This is unrelated to this trip plan but our 2018 trip out east was set back by our eastbound EB being 8 hours late, resulting in us missing out Capital Limited train. However, we had planned an extra day into the trip so we were still able to pick up our rental car (albeit a day later) once Amtrak scheduled us for the next day's CL.

For this trip, the only concern would be missing the CS up the coast but I think that is low risk as the Surfliner runs to SBP (apparently amtrak calls it SLO not SPB, I was going by airport code) as well.
 
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Oh yes! This is unrelated to this trip plan but our 2018 trip out east was set back by our eastbound EB being 8 hours late, resulting in us missing out Capital Limited train. However, we had planned an extra day into the trip so we were still able to pick up our rental car (albeit a day later) once Amtrak scheduled us for the next day's CL.

For this trip, the only concern would be missing the CS up the coast but I think that is low risk as the Surfliner runs to SBP (apparently amtrak calls it SLO not SPB, I was going by airport code) as well.
Good to plan in lots of flexibility... especially with local frequent running trains.
 
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Good to plan in lots of flexibility... especially with local frequent running trains.
Do you have any idea why the on time performance is worse now than it has been historically?


 
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